Browsing articles in "Thoughts"
Oct 5, 2011
Comments Off on Leaving A Legacy … Steve Jobs

Leaving A Legacy … Steve Jobs

It’s not about the products.

Or the technology.

It’s not about ubiquity.

It’s about the relentless pursuit of something new, something bold, something special.

Leadership is not about getting people to follow you.

Leadership is about walking the path, inviting people to join you, but walking whether they come or not.

Steve Jobs did this like few others.

That’s his legacy.

Walking the path of innovation, alone if needed, with the mob most often. Either way, one foot in front of another in pursuit of something better.

Who walks this path in education?

Who is bold enough, to take the products, and the technology, and the ubiquity, and walk in pursuit of better learning for our students with or without the mob?


Sep 30, 2011
Comments Off on Looking for Efficiency

Looking for Efficiency

Enter, sit down, do the work assigned, here’s your number, NEXT.

A successful industry is all about finding the perfect balance of efficiency. Removing everything you don’t need to make the product. Politics is like that too. Education is in search of more and more efficient ways to process learning.  The system is trying to make describing that learning efficient.

Learning isn’t efficient. Reporting about learning isn’t efficient.

Learning, at it’s best, is gracefully inefficient.

In fact, I believe we should relish in the inefficiency of learning. Recognize that efficient learning is not lifelong learning. Inefficiency is what gives us opportunity to build a relationship with a student to better understand his/her learning. Inefficiency encourages making mistakes. Inefficiency encourages risk taking, creativity, innovation. Inefficiency allows us to wonder, meander, sink into the pocket of what we are learning. Inefficiency breeds feedback that is rich and authentic.

It is inefficient to have every parent contact me and talk about their child. It is inefficient to sit down and talk with each student. But I guarantee in return, each student will have a better learning experience, they will get more out of the feedback. I guarantee that every parent will have a better understanding of where their child is and where and how they are going to get where they are headed. I guarantee it is better than a number twice a semester. Even if I break that number down into “consistent” percentages.

At the end of the day, maybe it is time to embrace inefficiency. We should stop running our schools like fast food joints trying to get people in and out as quickly as possible with as little interaction with them as possible. Maybe school doesn’t have to be an ATM, maybe we should encourage parents and students to walk in and talk to a teller. Talk to a teacher.


Sep 19, 2011

School Doesn’t Have To Be Fun.

She disagrees with me. It is most definitely not the first time. She disagrees with me about the finer details, but more importantly she disagrees with me about the foundation of my argument.

I don’t think class needs to be fun.

You see, I have been seeing the word “fun” pop up over and over in discussions about student engagement. Do I like when learning is fun? Of course. Do I try to ensure that the learning in the classroom is fun? No.

You see to me the difference is intention.

When we try to frame the learning around the idea of fun, I think we water it down, we create unreal expectations. Learning something new is often the opposite of fun.

Take playing guitar for instance, Guitar Hero is fun, but in the need to make it fun, the chords are now buttons, the strings a single switch. If you have ever tried to learn guitar, you know it takes awhile until you know enough for it to be fun. Even then, once you’ve learned those first three songs, if you want to get better, you have to go back to not sounding good, not having fun.

If you are a struggling reader, that is not fun. Reading doesn’t become fun until you are proficient enough that you can escape into the story and stop thinking about reading. I explained this to a class of mine, many of them struggling and reluctant readers, and they didn’t disagree, but they asked, “So, why would I want to do something, if it isn’t going to fun?” For which I replied, “Think of anything fun. Video games, sports, whatever. Think about the people who created these things. Do you think they had as much fun as you do? Probably not. They had to struggle through the mistakes and missteps. In the end, they have fun playing their games, but they needed to do the work behind the scenes first.”

But you see, that’s where I stop myself. I think learning is fun. I think struggling with a problem is fun. But that isn’t the reason why we do it.

Are my classes fun? Sometimes. No doubt about it, I like to have fun and many classes have moments of extreme fun, but fun is never my intention. It is a side effect, like drowsiness and irritability.

Her and I, we agree on many things. We agree school needs to be engaging. We agree that school needs to be exciting. But we just can’t agree that school doesn’t have to be fun.

Aug 30, 2011
Comments Off on Thinking “And” not “Or”

Thinking “And” not “Or”

It is so easy. You know the posture, you are either “with us” or “against us”. “This” or “that”. “Students” or “Teachers”. “Unions” or “Management”

But, that doesn’t work very often. In fact, if anything, that usually disables any forward momentum. It creates an environment of exclusion. It creates isolated ideas.

This happens to the best of us. We get caught in our frame of thinking that we instinctually place anyone who is opposed in an “or” position.

But maybe it is time for us to make the change.

Maybe it is time for us to re-think everything, starting with the word in the middle.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be one way or the other.

Have we, as an education system, as an education reform/revolution movement, spent enough time think with an “AND” mentality?

Have we, as teachers and students and administrators, tried hard enough working with an “AND” mentality?

I hear/read so much about education that frames things as an either/or. Not near enough, do I hear/read about education with a both/and.

What does that look like? How does that change things?

How do we get there?

How can I start developing that frame of reference?


I don’t know where these questions will take me. The following blog post struck a chord with me. Read the inspiration.

Aug 4, 2011
Comments Off on Do We Spend Enough Time Wondering?

Do We Spend Enough Time Wondering?

I was stuck in traffic today. The blessed curse of driving into and out of Toronto during the day.

The thing is, I’m usually that guy.

That guy who weaves in and out of lanes, trying to find the fast one. That guy who speeds up and then has to slam on my brakes when the traffic inevitably reminds me of where I am. I’m usually that guy.

But not today.  I’m relaxed and at ease. Nowhere to go, by no set time.  I was operating at the timeline of life.

And I had CBC radio.

I’m a fan of CBC radio. No, I’m not pompous and a left-wing liberal (ok, one of those maybe), but I listen to it as a reminder, to myself, to wonder.

The thing is wondering can get away from us. It slips through the door somedays, to only return tomorrow. Life has a way of leaving the door open like that.

Being stuck in traffic on a day with no schedule allowed me to find that old friend and I got to thinking, do we do this enough? Allow our students time to wonder? Or is that something they should do on “their own time”?

The thing is we spend so much time talking about thinking, that we sometimes forget about wondering. There is a difference.  Wondering doesn’t have to follow the logic, it doesn’t have to be specific or on task.  It doesn’t have to be something you are even interested in.

CBC radio reminds me. Shows like Ideas, Spark, As It Happens, are all a collection of randomly produced wonderings. They make me wonder about the things that don’t enter into my thoughts. They never play a lead role in my life. Yet, they make me wonder.


Now, as I wrote this, I got to reflecting that I do wonder at times, but usually, I have access to Google to clear up any wondering. Google makes wondering efficient. There’s something wrong about that.  There’s something unnatural. Yet, I do it. Often.

So, I don’t know.

Do we spend enough time wondering?

Jul 29, 2011
Comments Off on The Learning Community – Going Solo

The Learning Community – Going Solo

I spend such a considerable amount of time building the community. It is my focus for the extent of the first day, maybe week.  Even in summer school where the timelines are tight. I’ve got 32 students in this community of learners coming from the distinct cultures and learning climates of 13 different schools. To say, we are diverse is an understatment.

So we build. We connect. We compromise. We explore. We figure each other out. And eventually, we form community.

It is a noticable community. Built on ever-changing seating arrangements. Unscripted conversations, collaborative mind-mapping, presentations and more presentations.

By the end of week one, we are solid. We have a culture all our own.

And the pace quickens. Summer school is like that. We lose three members, yet we keep rolling.

By week three, it feels comfortable. But now, the end is near.

We only have three days more.

And then…it is over. The community that we’ve built must dissolve. It becomes, yet another example, of the fleeting feeling of learning.

I put so much emphasis on having a learning community and relying on them. But, I haven’t gone far enough. Because there is an aspect of learning that is solo. Personal. A place where we don’t want someone else to delve into and I haven’t spent near enough time equipped these students with this notion.

I like to ride my bike. I get on, get out to country roads and ride. Multiple hours slip past taking with it my worries and fears and enabling me to sit in the pocket of contemplation and celebration.  This is the time where I can think. I write in my head. I process my fears.  I allow myself to stroke my ego and then feel the burn as it is torn down by its maker.

This is all part of it.  The learning community works, only if we revel in the individual. We need to take/make that time to be alone.  Yet, I don’t emphasize that in class.

We won’t always have that ready-made learning community that a class provides us. We won’t always have the common, committed goal of analysis and exploration. So, are we prepared to learn on our own?

Are we preparing students to ride solo, with only their own thinking to keep them company?

Jul 21, 2011

Little BIG Thing #5: Listen To Their Music

There is always that kid. The one kid who is immune to my wit and humour. You know the kid, the kid at the back of the room, perpetual frown on their face, eye rolls for every activity, head drops to the desk in boredom five minutes into the class.  This kid walks in to every classroom expecting to be bored. She doesn’t give the teacher, the class, the subject the benefit of the doubt. She is closed to the impending experience.

Mainly, she doesn’t laugh and expects judgment.

There is always one.

I throw every joke, wit, smile, and opportunity at her, trying desperately to see the crack in the wall. She wants to engage. They all want to engage.

But, nothing.

Then I turn on my music. I let the music of my life (The Tragically Hip, Great Big Sea, Dan Mangan, Matt Andersen, Danny Michel and Bruce Guthro) fill the room as students walk in. Music chips away at the wall.

I always ask about the earbuds in the ears.  I want to know.

Then, I ask to listen.

This summer it was dub step. A musical genre, I’ve never heard of, that insists on deep bass and electronic rhythm with few, if any, lyrics. Not necessarily, my thing. But I listened.

No judgement. Just my ears dedicated to the music. The soundtrack of her youth. The soundtrack of her survival.

And then things are different.

Engagement is now an option for her. It is easier for her.

We attach music to who we are, especially as we struggle with the question. To listen to the music is to appreciate the person.

What else would you want to listen to?


Please feel free to share with me, your thoughts on what the Little BIG Things of Education.

Related Posts:

The Little BIG Things of Education

Little BIG Thing #4: What I Learn is As Important

Little BIG Thing #3: Surprise Changes Culture

Little BIG Thing #2: Celebrate Being Wrong

Little BIG Thing #1: The Brightness of Your Eyes




Jul 20, 2011
Comments Off on Who is Our Innovation Leader?

Who is Our Innovation Leader?

The tech world has Steve Jobs and the Google guys.

The film industry has Christopher Nolan and James Cameron.

Marketing has Godin, tennis has the Williams sisters, and J.K. Rowling changed things in the book world.

Even politics has/had Obama.

The difference as I see it, education doesn’t have the leader.  And, I think, the leader matters.

We have groups of people throwing out ideas, we have our edu-bubble of innovation, but we don’t have that person that is the game changer.  That one person, or organization, that is constantly shifting the thinking.  Making everyone stand up and listen. Making it impossible to stay the same.

We are not organized.

Sure, we have unions, but they are not in the game of innovation. They are in the game of management. Change and innovation doesn’t happen in management. Continuity happens in management. Protection happens in management.

We have a few individuals who are asking the right questions and helping the thinking along. Many of them provide the illusion of leadership. Too many of them are not classroom teachers.  They were.  But they aren’t any longer. This matters.

After a few years (How long is too long?) of being outside the classroom/school, what influence do you still carry? How connected are you? Bill Gates is no longer the tech innovator, now that he’s out of the game.  Neither was Steve Jobs when he took his hiatus.  He needed to be in the building for his influence to matter.  The same goes for education. Doesn’t it?

Now people will say that innovation looks different in education. I agree.  However, isolated moments of innovation aren’t enough.  We haven’t gone far enough. We haven’t pushed the revolution.  Is it because we have no leader? Or is education incapable of that size of innovative shift?

I think we need a leader. We need the game changer. Who is it going to be? How are we going to get there?


Jul 6, 2011
Comments Off on What If I’m Wrong?

What If I’m Wrong?

A respected colleague of mine recently asked me, “You are always trying new things and trying new approaches, aren’t you afraid you’ll be wrong and then students will be affected?”

What if I’m wrong?

I figure, I’ve got three options:

  1. I’m right.
  2. I’m wrong, but I’m closer to the best possible idea.
  3. I’m wrong and I’m farther away from the best possible idea.

In the pursuit of providing my students with the best learning opportunity, I’d rather side with the 2/3 chance that I’m moving forward, rather then letting the one option stop me in my tracks. This goes for everything I do, negative thinking breeds a failure to move, positive thinking means movement is essential.


The other side of the my response is that I do my due diligence. I don’t hatch an idea and then go. Ok, sometimes, but generally, I read, I reflect, I talk and I connect. No idea is considered in a bubble. But, no idea is thrown out just because it hasn’t been done before or because it makes me, or other people, uncomfortable.


What if I’m wrong? The only time I can be wrong is in thinking I’ve got nowhere to go.

Jul 5, 2011
Comments Off on Learning Happened. (A few lists…)

Learning Happened. (A few lists…)

A few lists connected to the school year that passed.

Things to Do Again:

  • Invite the outside world into my classroom. Throw open the doors.
  • Be constantly striving for more authentic audience, task, learning.
  • Invite scrutiny.
  • Build rich connections with colleagues and look for opportunities to engage in good, though possibly uncomfortable, professional dialogue.
  • Shift away from the centre. Don’t think top-down is teacher-student. Instead, think there is no top, “We are all in this together.”
  • One rule: “Be Great”
  • Have rich, meaningful, honest conversations with each student about their progress. These conversations were much more nuanced and useful then any mark or report card comment. They take time, but they are worth it.

Things I Didn’t Get Quite Right:

  • Parents: I had no complaints from parents, well, none that I have any knowledge.  I had some real great feedback from parents, though. But I didn’t quite get it right. Even after last semester’s reflection on the role of parents, I didn’t do a good enough job keeping/getting them connected to their child’s learning. I need to take more time to get them connected, get them involved. Especially as I use more and more social media, authentic audience, etc. It blends so easily. I want students, regardless of grade, to be talking to their parents about what they learned in class today. This breeds a greater importance on learning, less on the final numerical result of the learning.
  • Flexibility: Some of the feedback I got from students was that I provided them, at times, too much freedom and flexibility. They felt that they hung themselves with it. Now each student recognized that they need to own the responsibility, however, they’ve never been taught how, so it is unfair for me to expect them to handle it.  I had many of my students comment that their ability to “be in a regular classroom” was compromised because of the flexibility they had in my class. I look at that as something that I didn’t get quite right and I’m going to need to work to find a better balance.
  • Sharing: It is one of those lessons you learn early, and it turns out often, about taking (or even better making) opportunities to share the things you are doing.  I wrote a blog post entitled “If I Don’t Share, Is It Because I Don’t Own It?” that begins to reflect on the nature of sharing in this profession.  I used the excuse that “I didn’t own the class” when I first talked about sharing, but now, with more afterthought and more reflection on all the things I did in class, I recognize that I’ve got to share more.  I believe there are things every class should be doing, those things that worked and are easy, but if I don’t share them with the people in my building they are dead already.  I don’t know what this will look like, but it needs to be done.
  • Feedback: I’m still not there. I’ve written about the feedback loop that I’m trying to create but it is not complete. It needs more tweaking. How do I provide rich, constructive, learning feedback, while making it manageable? How do I provide that as instantly as possible while teaching upwards of 90 students a day? How do I more concretely connect the required number (grade on the report card) with the intangible (observations)?
  • The Game: I’m not one to mind my ‘p’s’ and ‘q’s’. I say what’s on my mind and often live with the consequences. Professionally speaking, I’m not one to play the game.  I just run at my own speed. This tactic (though it really is the lack of tactics) has left me isolated at times. On its own, I’m not too worried. However, if my actions are going to work against a student’s needs in the future (with a colleague, parent or administrator), then I haven’t served them. The game is not for me, it is to serve my students in the best way. I need to find a middle ground, maybe?


Things I Learned About Learning:

  • I love to learn. Adding the Twittersphere to my daily professional development was wonderful.
  • Learning happens with community. The idea that learning can happen on your own is baloney. You need other people. We need to constantly be honing our ability to create community in our classrooms. But not just any community, learning community. There is a difference, a big one.
  • Learning is a dog fight. Grip it and rip it. Learning is not for the faint of heart. It is tough and messy and rarely pretty. Recognizing this made me much more willing to take risks and not shy away when the going got tough, which it does inevitably, every time.
  • It can’t happen in a bubble. Allow for distractions. Maintaining direct focus is unsustainable for most learners. Most of us need time and space to breathe.
  • I’m not the best learner in the room. I’m really only good at learning for me. Let people/students learn with whatever methods work for them.
  • Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. I like to jump in with testing the water. I do this with learning new things too. I learned that for some things, that isn’t the best strategy. Now, this isn’t to say i’m not going to be jumping in, but maybe, just maybe, I won’t be doing a cannonball.

Things I Need To Learn More About:

  • Google Apps
  • Integrating autonomy more effectively into every class. FedEx Days? What would they look like?
  • Building more authentic, project-based learning opportunities.
  • Establishing richer community with people on Twitter. I’m not using this tool to its full potential.
  • How to be a better collaborator.
  • Access to funding opportunities to enrich the learning in the room.
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